According to reports, Clarence Thomas’ wife pleaded with Donald Trump’s chief of staff to reverse the 2020 election results. This spotlight has brought attention to how justices make decisions about whether or not to withdraw from a case.
A court without a code or ethics is open to individual justices making their own decisions that are not subject to review. The issue isn’t always straightforward, especially when spouses have distinguished careers.
Although the Supreme Court didn’t intervene in any election cases brought forward by Trump or other Republicans Justice Thomas participated in the discussion of whether those cases should be heard. He was also the only vote to prevent the House from investigating the Jan 6 incident. The Capitol riot prevented the White House from contesting documents.
Thomas did not respond to Friday’s request for comment through the court’s spokesperson. The court had earlier announced that Thomas was discharged from hospital following a nearly one-week stay while he was being treated for an infection.
Virginia Thomas, his wife of 27 years, was married to him in 1987. She is a conservative activist who has ardently supported Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. Thomas used her Facebook page in the weeks before the election to spread unsubstantiated allegations of corruption made by Joe Biden (Trump’s opponent).
After the election was over, Thomas, also known as Ginni sent several weeks of texts to Mark Meadows, begging him for his resignation. This furthered Trump’s lie that the free and fair election was marred by fraud. CBS News obtained copies of the messages.
Thomas wrote, “The majority know Biden and the Left are attempting to the greatest Heist in our History.”
She also encouraged Sidney Powell to be the “lead and face” of Trump’s legal team, as he promoted false claims about the election.
Powell also brought cases to Supreme Court during the same time, and they were denied without any noted recusals.
Thomas was also present at the court. Thomas challenged the Texas justices to temporarily disallow electoral votes from four states Biden had won. This could have the potential to reverse the outcome. Trump wanted to join Texas’s side in the case.
Ron Wyden, a Democratic Senator from Oregon, said that Thomas should not be involved in any future cases regarding the Jan. 6, investigation or the 2024 Election. If Trump does decide to run again, he should also refrain.
“Judges have an obligation to withdraw from cases where they would cause even the appearance of conflict of interest. Wyden stated in a statement that anyone with a bit of common sense could see that the bar was met.
Arthur Hellman, an expert on ethics at the University of Pittsburgh, stated that Thomas’s situation is a reflection of the progress made by women in their ability to pursue their own careers and live independently from their husbands. Hellman stated that judges should be able to distinguish between cases where their spouses are involved and those in which they have been active. He said that only the first category is eligible for recusal.
It’s not an absolute. Hellman stated that there may be cases where the issue is so important in the case that the judge should recuse. “I don’t believe I see that in Ginni Thomas’s situation.”
Ginni Thomas for her part downplayed any conflict in an interview with Washington Free Beacon earlier in the month, prior to publication of the text messages. Thomas stated that, “like many married couples,” they share many of the same ideals and principles, as well as American hopes and dreams. “But we each have our own careers and our own ideas. Clarence does not discuss his work with him, and I do not involve him in mine.”
Thomas’ texts were revealed at a time when groups are calling for ethics guidelines to be applied to justices. The issue has been examined by Congress.
Federal law requires federal judges (including Supreme Court justices) to withdraw from any case in which they have been involved or have a financial interest. The judge must also recuse himself “in any proceeding in the which his impartiality might reasonably doubted.” However, this is open to interpretation.
Gabe Roth, from the court transparency group Fix The Court said that an ethics code would allow the justices to make consistent decisions regarding recusals. “Every justice views their ethical obligations differently from each other. Roth stated that there should be clear and simple rules for everyone.
Justice Elena Kagan stated that three years ago Chief Justice John Roberts was looking into whether the court should have its own ethics guide. Since then, nothing has changed.
Roberts pointed out in 2011 that the Supreme Court differs from lower courts in that no one can intervene if a justice withdraws. Roberts stated that a justice cannot withdraw from a case “as a matter of convenience” or “just to avoid controversy”.
Justices and other judges may decide that they are unable to participate in a case if a close relative is involved. Thomas was a part of a case that ended Virginia Military Institute’s exclusionary treatment of women. This occurred early in his tenure on the Supreme Court. Jamal, his son from his first marriage was a VMI student.
Justice Stephen Breyer doesn’t usually participate in cases decided by the lower court by Charles Breyer, his brother. Justice Brett Kavanaugh resigned last year from a case in which the court imposed a $2 billion verdict for women who claimed they had ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson talc products. Kavanaugh did not offer any explanation. However, his father E. Edward Kavanaugh had previously headed the trade group that lobbied against talc being labeled a carcinogen, and included a warning label on talc products.
Roberts and his wife handled a potential controversy in an entirely different manner. Jane Roberts ceased practicing law after her husband was appointed chief justice. She became the unpaid legal counsel for Feminists for Life of America and quit her job as a lawyer.